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  • Edexcel Component 1, Section 2.4: UK political parties in context

  • AQA Component 1, Section Political Parties: factors affecting electoral outcomes

Background: what you need to know 

These articles review the current state of the UK’s two largest parties. The first one highlights the challenges facing Keir Starmer as Labour leader. He has been damaged by last week’s election losses and a poorly managed shadow cabinet reshuffle. He faces a broader problem in positioning Labour once again as a potential party of government. On economic policy and the role of the state, there is no longer a significant divide between Labour and the Conservatives, as since 2019 Boris Johnson’s government has occupied policy ground normally associated with Labour.

The two parties are more divided over what has come to be known as ‘identity politics’ — with a centre-right party that embraces socially conservative, patriotic attitudes and a leftwing party seemingly unable to embrace these values. Most voters are unimpressed by such debates. Instead, they judge parties on their ability to deliver practical improvements, and they will respond to leadership which exhibits a sense of direction.

The second article complements this discussion by illustrating how the Conservatives have abandoned the small state, low tax vision of Thatcherism in favour of a more actively interventionist approach. This reflects Boris Johnson’s expansionist instincts and his desire to maintain the support of newly won ‘red wall’ seats by offering increased public investment to improve the quality of life. This may not endure in the face of hard economic reality but for the time being Johnson has forged a centrist alliance of better-off, traditional Conservative voters in the south and less affluent former Labour supporters in the ‘left behind’ north of England. The two articles offer some ideas for answering questions on the factors that influence the success or failure of political parties.

The article on Labour gives a link to a New Statesman piece by Tony Blair, in which he makes recommendations on how progressive parties can make themselves relevant in the present day. This is an interesting supplementary read. In 1994-97, Blair led the Labour party in opposition as it emerged from a disastrous period in which it had suffered four successive election defeats. There are obvious parallels with the challenges facing Starmer today. A comparison between the two situations would provide interesting material for an essay on the fortunes of political parties and how they seek to make themselves electable.

Click to read the articles below and then answer the questions:

Labour’s problem is that Keir Starmer is no Tony Blair

The state takes control in Johnson’s post-Brexit Britain

Depending on which examination board you are following, answer one of the following questions.

Question in the style of Edexcel Politics Paper 1

  • Evaluate the view that perceptions of governing competence are the most important influence on voters’ attitudes towards political parties.

    You must consider this view and the alternative to this view in a balanced way. [30 marks]

Question in the style of AQA Politics Paper 1

  • ‘The most important influence on election outcomes is voters’ perceptions of party leadership.’ Analyse and evaluate this statement. [25 marks]

Graham Goodlad, St John’s College

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